Africa Embracing Open Data to Tackle Food Insecurity

By Justus Wanjala

NAIROBI (ACP-IDN) – Despite possessing huge potential for agricultural growth due to the availability of vast land and water resources, Africa’s food production sector is seriously under-performing.

Steps are now being taken in the direction of using and sharing agriculture data to boost food production and contribute to making the continent food secure.

Participants at the Ministerial Conference on Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition and 4th Agritec Africa Exhibition, held in Nairobi from June 14-16, 2017, agreed that a new mechanism is needed to ensure rapid and sustained growth of food production and put Africa on the path of ending hunger and improving nutrition.

Calling for greater use and sharing of agriculture data, speakers noted that this will not only benefit food production but will also help to overcome the impacts of climate change by enabling the practice of sustainable agriculture and thus move towards achievement of Goal 2 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable development.

They saw the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) initiative as a mechanism for establishing comprehensive open data collaboration in the nutrition and agriculture sectors.

It is envisaged that the initiative – which is based on partnership and collaboration – will revolutionise agriculture technologically and scientifically through the sharing of vital data which are currently hidden or inaccessible.

GODAN has its roots in the 2012 G-8 Summit in the United States, where leaders committed to the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, a shared commitment to achieve sustained inclusive, agriculture-led growth in Africa.

As part of this commitment, they agreed to “share relevant agricultural data available from G-8 countries with African partners and convene an international conference on Open Data for Agriculture, to develop options for the establishment of a global platform to make reliable agricultural and related information available to African farmers, researchers and policymakers, taking into account existing agricultural data systems.”

In April 2013, the commitment to convene such a conference was fulfilled when the G8 International Conference on Open Data for Agriculture took place. The GODAN initiative was a by-product of this conference and was announced at the Open Government Partnership Summit in October 2013.  

At the Nairobi Ministerial Conference, it was announced that GODAN will work with 15 ministers from Kenya, South Africa, Congo, Sudan, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Rwanda and Ghana in implementing the initiative.

Acknowledging that open data is a driver for agricultural transformation; ministers called for making data available to smallholder farmers, noting that farmers require technical support to improve productivity and resilience.

It was agreed to create an intercontinental data network system known as the African Intergovernmental Network on Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition. “Through sharing of data, farmers can minimise post-harvest losses by easily accessing market information,” said Kenyan Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Willy Bett.

In a statement read out by Bett on their behalf, other ministers said they were convinced that making data and statistics on agriculture and nutrition accessible and useful to smallholder farmers and intermediaries is essential to the development of inclusive values chains. “The Intergovernmental Network on Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition will hence build resilience in communities and strengthen food and nutrition security,” said the statement.

Reaffirming the commitment to strengthening international cooperation for addressing persistent challenges facing the growth of sustainable agriculture in developing countries, ministers emphasised the need to strengthen South-South cooperation and triangular collaborations. “This will enable building of capacity, technology transfer and knowledge sharing to enable us collectively to address the challenges of data gaps in food security and nutrition.”

At the same time, ministers reiterated that sustainable agriculture requires partnership and collaboration with a wide range of people, including women and youth, governments, smallholder farmers, civil society and the private sector, “working together to ensure a world that is food secure, without hunger and malnutrition.”

Agriculture ministers resolved to take urgent action to achieve sustainable agriculture through the intergovernmental network, saying: “We renew our commitment to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 2 of ending hunger and achieving food security by endeavouring to make more open data available for assessing progress on implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable development and the SDGs.”

The ministers also vowed to strengthen the acquisition and application of science technology and innovation to improve the uptake of data-driven youth innovation and promote entrepreneurship. “This will support partnerships that leverage youth innovation and enable farmers to access skills, new markets and financing, thus attracting youth into agribusiness.”

A major shortcoming identified by participants was the fact that data are often disjointed   and fragmented, with different organisations talking about same things but in different ways. “Smallholder farmers face difficulties in accessing information,” said Bett. “We prefer they access it depending on how they want to use it in increasing productivity. Most of the data should also be generated by the famers themselves, so that it is collected, collated and disseminated to fellow farmers.”

In this context, agriculture ministers said the network will play a key role in improving the capacity of member states to collect data. “We want agriculture to be a catalyst of economic development,” Bett stressed. “Open data should enable farmers to increase production, reduce poverty and create jobs in line with the SDGs.”

Another issue that emerged was the fact that farmers require information technology tools to access information. Charity Wayua, Public Sector Manager at IBM Research Africa, said there was a need for data collection methods that do not interfere with farmers’ day-to-day activities.

Andre Laperriere, Executive Director of GODAN, said invigorating agriculture calls for capitalising on technology and enhancing the exchange of relevant data between farmers and experts, which will also “cushion famers from data fatigue.”

Philip Thigo, Senior Advisor on Data and Innovations at the Office of the Kenya Deputy President, said farmers need to be empowered with capacity to interpret data. “Big data should be demystified through technocrats simplifying and translating them to enable farmers to understand them.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 5 July 2017]

Photo: African ministers call for using and sharing agriculture data to boost food production and contribute to making Africa food secure. Credit: Justus Wanjala | IDN-INPS

Note: This report is part of a joint project of the Secretariat of the ACP Group of States and IDN, flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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